Isaiah 66: 10-14
Psalm 66: 1-11, 14-18
Galatians 6: 1-10, 14-16
St. Luke 10: 1-12, 16-20
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
As I observe the times we live in there is a concept that I’ve noticed as permeated throughout our American, and at large even Western, culture. Whether it be the schools, psychologists, our doctors, the media, political events, sports, Hollywood, etc.; I see all the institutions of our nation promoting having high self esteem. In every institution, no matter from whom or where it appears as if there is a unanimous consensus that humans need to have high self-esteem in order to be healthy and productive and overall happy. On the flipside, low self-esteem is diagnosed as something bad, usually connected to obnoxious behaviors or depression. In order to combat feelings of worthlessness we as a people promote various uplifting programs that generate within us knowledge that we can do things.
This self-esteem boosting mentality that has spread throughout every part of our American life naturally is uplifting and ego boosting. We are taught to love our selves, to be comfortable in our skins, and learn to accept who we are. Likewise we also generate a culture of acceptance where as a society to compel each other to accept the other so as to continually foster a sense of heightened worth. We observe our glories and focus on our achievements, while also attempting to make all feel glorious. In an attempt to equally boost self-esteem participation awards are
provided to all. Winning became offensive for that would imply a loser. To prevent self-loathing, we are encouraged to project our sins on to others; it’s not my fault but their fault. Self-improvement also ceases to be acceptable for that implies that there is something that needs to be improved. And then sin in of itself is abolished for in an effort to protect the fragile minds of the uplifting culture no one can do wrong.
Where did we go wrong? All we intended to do was to prevent people from feeling sad about themselves; to encourage them. Yet in the end all we truly did was create a culture of pride;
Pride, the deadliest of all the sins. You’ve heard of the seven deadly sins, well according to such the worst is pride, for the root of all sin comes from pride. In fact all sin stems from the first sin committed which was committed out of pride. And today, call it what you want – pride, vane-glory, forced acceptance, self-love, ego boosting, high self-esteem – all of it has become a huge thorn in the side of the Church.
To elaborate on what I mean, just look up “low self-esteem.” Everything that pops up, short of an explanation, will be means of identifying and then combating against having low self-esteem. The general culture views have low self-esteem as a bad thing. What if they are all wrong?
Is it at any point acceptable to have low self-esteem, to say hate yourself? The answer is obviously yes. So now the question is when? What if I said always?
There is a very much loved concept that is shared by the pastors of the NALC. It goes as such: I do not have self-esteem, I don’t just have low self-esteem but zero self-esteem; instead I have complete esteem in God. Basically, I acknowledge that I am a poor-wretched fallen human who deserves to go to Hell for woe is me, but blessings upon blessings to God who saved me from myself and generates within me good fruit. If any good things come out of you they came first and only from God, and without God all that come out of you is evil. That is why the most biblically correct desirable state of mind is to have zero self-esteem in our own fallen human abilities but place our faith completely in God.
So by now you may have noticed that I’m not a big fan of this culture of vanity we live in. In fact if you’ve been paying attention to my sermons and lessons for the past two years you may have realized I intentionally use self-degrading terms to define my own mean estate as a fallen human being as well as all of humanity. Words I intentionally use to describe us include rags, worthless worms, wicked, evil, etc. This is to highlight the fact that we are sinners and if it wasn’t for the unconditional sacrifice of our Lord and Savior on that dreaded tree then our just reward, each and every one of us, would have been Hell. The only reason why we are going to Heaven is because of Christ, and on no account of anything we have done. There is nothing in ourselves we should be proud in, but everything in Christ.
As to our culture of vanity, something interesting, if you were to read Solomon’s book in the Old Testament called, “Ecclesiastes,” you would realize that the entirety of Solomon’s book is about proclaiming that all is vanity. And he is very
emphatic about his proclamation, so emphatic that the totality of the book is to explain why he, the wisest of humans, knows all that we fallen humans do is done in vain. So considering the times Solomon lived in compared to today and our culture’s outright insistence on demolishing low self-esteem, I would dare say that Solomon would consider our generation as the most vain of all vain generations. So if you get the chance, read Ecclesiastes, it’s a surprisingly humorous read, for Solomon doesn’t mince words, and nothing escapes his ire.
I understand if this whole countercultural biblically centric concept of zero self-esteem might sound strange at best or horrifying at worst. But I tell you it is truly the best approach, for in the end it exposes the truth of our sinfulness while also proving hope in he who is the source of all that is good. The intent is to avoid self-worship, and then shift our focus away from trying to make ourselves feel better through our own powers, which is like trying to clean with a dirty bacteria infested rag, but to place our eyes first on the Kingdom of God.
Our second reading really hits home this approach when it says, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” We are nothing. According to our own human powers, we are all nothing. Therefore the appropriate amount of self-esteem for us who are nothing is zero, and if you were to think you are something then you are deceiving yourself. But then it says, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Do not boast in yourself, but instead boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do not place esteem in
yourself, but instead place esteem in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Other context we can use includes say our prayer of the day which reads, “peace comes from you alone.” In other words peace never comes from us humans ; we can never accomplish peace, but Christ alone can. Other context, our Gospel which reads, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In other words, do rejoice in yourself but God.
And still more context to support why we should have zero self-esteem in ourselves, to those who falsely claim that the Bible doesn’t command us to hate ourselves here are a few:
∙ John 12:25, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
∙ Luke 14: 26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
∙ Luke 9: 25, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Here is the thing; nothing in the Bible is ego boosting ever suggested. In fact whenever self-love is mentioned in the Bible it is mentioned as a something that comes from the fallen human condition, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” Ephesians 5:29. Self-love is the default state for sinners, and not a good default state, according to 2 Timothy 3:1-
2, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy.” Self-love and unholy are listed in the same category. So what do we do?
Instead of being selfish and encouraging such, instead of loving the self, we should turn outwardly, be selfless, and lovers of God first. 2 Corinthians 5:15, “And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” That is what we do, turn away from ourselves and instead turn toward God loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and body. We are to love Him with every fiber of our being and then and only then through such divine love we in humility count others more significant than ourselves, Philippians 2:3.
Basically, in the end don’t boast about yourself or become charmed by the vanity inducing culture of self-love, but instead in all that is good boast God above who is the source alone.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, fill each of us with a spirit of humility, to understand the extent of our fallen condition, and in a manner that is never satisfied, turn towards you who washes us of our wickedness, fills us with all that is good, and satisfies our aching hearts. In your holy name we pray: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.